The defendant and his legal counsel arrived at Alexandria's federal courthouse wearing a dark three-piece suit and handcuffs. The unusual thing was that they were the same man.

When the handcuffs were removed Sherman Woodrow Dobson, 31, an inmate at a federal penitentiary in Marion, Ill., got his long-awaited chance this week to defend himself on charges of kidnaping and assaulting six prison guards at Lorton Reformatory in a February 1983 incident.

And to hear District Judge Richard L. Williams tell it, Dobson did an outstanding defense job.

"I want to commend you for the articulate and professional manner in which you conducted your defense," Williams told Dobson at the end of the trial yesterday. "You did a very excellent job."

The problem for Dobson was that his second trial ended the same was the first one did: with a guilty verdict.

The Baltimore-born Dobson and four other inmates were convicted on the charges in 1983. But Dobson, who has no formal education as a lawyer, objected to having a court-appointed lawyer handle his defense.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with his complaint and ordered a retrial, saying Dobson had a constitutional right to defend himself.

An intense, bearded man with glasses, Dobson demonstrated he had court procedures down pat this week. He was less skillful at questioning witnesses, several of whom were Lorton guards and thus, his former keepers. Williams, who addressed Dobson as "counsel," repeatedly admonished him that his line of questioning was not advancing the trial.

When Dobson took the stand in his own defense, a court-appointed "standby" lawyer, Donn E. Garvey Jr., questioned him.

Five guards were assaulted one by one and detained by five knife-wielding inmates in a restroom in the Lorton administration building in the 1983 incident. Dobson's defense was that the guards lied about the incident, which he said they initiated in retribution for articles in a prison magazine printed by Dobson and others.

"I'm a convict, I can't deny that," Dobson said in his final arguments, his voice choking as he struggled to keep his composure. He called the government's case "a trip to a Chinese restaurant, that is, picking some facts here and there to make a meal."

Dobson is serving a 15-years-to-life sentence for armed robbery and possessing a pistol without a license. He was moved to the Marion prison after the Lorton incident.

Dobson, who faces a maximum of 20 years on each of the seven counts, will be sentenced Aug. 2.